Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus master plan awarded merit for accessible design efforts
The Infinite Loop and Green Links — universal design features set to boost accessibility and mobility — were recently awarded a merit for Excellence in Landscape for Open Space Planning by the Society for College and University Planning. The features are detailed throughout Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus master plan, Beyond Boundaries 2047: The Campus Plan.
This follows on the heels of the 2019 award by the Society for College and University Planning for Excellence in Planning for an Existing Campus.
The 2.1-mile Infinite Loop and 3.5 miles of Green Links are two key outcomes of the master plan, developed by Virginia Tech and consultant partner Sasaki, which “enhance the student experience, protect the established sense of place, facilitate mobility and accessibility, accommodate enrollment growth, and address broad sustainability goals,” wrote Liza Morris, assistant vice president for planning and university architect in her letter to the 2019 Awards Jury. “In doing so, the Infinite Loop and Green Links respond to the five overarching goals of Beyond Boundaries, and specifically, these initiatives facilitate accessibility and mobility and foster an inclusive campus experience.”
The two projects were commended by the Society for College and University Planning for an “excellent approach to bringing universal access to the forefront of design.”
Universal design, as defined by the United Nations and the U.S. General Services Administration, is the “design of products, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”
In the context of Virginia Tech campus and landscape planning, this approach means thinking beyond the baseline of ADA compliance through reimagining the ways the Blacksburg campus is navigated with one goal in mind: One design works for all.
“Both the Infinite Loop and Green Links will retrofit Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus using thoughtful landscape architecture and campus planning to replace stairways, indirect pathways, and steep slopes that were developed prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Jack Rosenberger, campus landscape architect. “They were designed with stakeholder input and to complement one another to create a complete network of universally accessible primary pathways throughout the campus core.”
The Infinite Loop is imagined to circumnavigate core campus appearing as an “outer ring” to the Drillfield, serving as a perimeter link among existing and future academic, research, and residential districts. The loop will eliminate slopes exceeding five percent as well as other vertical impediments to movement.
The project supports pedestrian, bicycle, scooter, car, public transit, and even autonomous vehicle transportation in the future. It also serves as a platform for enhancing socialization, recreation, and research. Each segment of the Infinite Loop is adaptive to its campus context, surrounding topography, and buildings.
The Green Links, designed with universal access at the forefront, will extend through the Drillfield to major campus regions. They are envisioned as landscape corridors, integrating shade trees, other natural elements, and stormwater management strategies where appropriate. These new intentionally designed paths of travel will offer opportunities for “productive collisions,” coincidental meetups among students, faculty, and staff resulting in community-building.
Incorporated into the Infinite Loop and Green Links are outdoor classrooms, enhanced campus quads, and large natural areas, to provide greater access to green spaces that can be used for working or relaxing outdoors and promoting mental health and well-being.
“Removing barriers - such as curbs, stairs, and non-compliant sidewalks - and replacing them with paths that can be utilized by the entire campus population makes for a more accessible physical environment for everyone,” said Rosenberger.
Recently completed physical enhancements helping to ensure equitable access on the Blacksburg campus include:
- A new gently-sloping pathway leading from the Duck Pond Drive Lot to the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
- A new ADA-compliant ramp and tactile paving on curb cuts (known as truncated domes) were installed in the Owens Hall parking lot, leading to and from the ADA parking area.
Additionally, the newly established Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities’ in-house accessible pathways crew will focus on installing ramps and curb cuts, upgrading deteriorated sidewalks, addressing barriers and assisting with additional Office for Equity and Accessibility physical accessibility priority areas that are not currently ADA-compliant on the Blacksburg campus.
“The Infinite Loop and Green Links are outstanding examples of the university’s commitment to exceeding accessibility design standards coming to fruition. Virginia Tech is honored to receive this recognition from the Society for College and University Planning. It really is a testament to ongoing partnership among the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities; Transportation Services; Office for Equity and Accessibility; Town of Blacksburg; Sasaki; and so many other planning and design stakeholders - striving together to create a more inclusive and equitable Blacksburg campus landscape,” said Morris.